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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
William W. Hughes

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[This information is from Vol. III, pp. 670-675 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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Portrait of William W. Hughes

Portrait: William W. Hughes

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To the work of community betterment William W. Hughes is dedicating his life and very considerable powers of organization and leadership. With a vision far beyond that of ordinary men he was the central figure and dynamic force in a movement that completely transformed the entire life of a small village in the Empire state, and is today the successful general secretary of the Young Men's Christian Association and the Chamber of Commerce in the thriving city of Little Falls. His life has been an eventful one, thus the story of his achievements holds an unsual interest for its readers.

Born in Eaton, Madison county, New York, on December 12, 1879, William W. Hughes is the son of the late William W. Hughes, Sr., and his wife, Catherine A. Davis. William W. Hughes, Sr., a contractor and builder by occupation, was born in Wales, May 5, 1849, and died in Utica, New York, October 31, 1914, at the age of sixty-five. His father, William Hughes, died in his native Wales, but his mother, Ann Hughes, came to this country and passed away in Utica some years ago. The mother of William W. Hughes of this review was likewise born in Wales, in 1857, in the same town as her future husband, whom she knew as a girl before coming to America. Mrs. Hughes came across the Atlantic somewhat later than her husband and they were married in Morrisville, New York. The young wife lived to enjoy but few years in her new home, for she passed away in 1882, at the untimely age of twenty-five. Aside from her son, there is but one relative of Mrs. Hughes in the United States today, the Rev. T. T. Davis, a well known Congregational clergyman, who has been pastor of the church of that denomination at Sandy Creek, Oswego county, for the past thirty years. Mr. Hughes' father's people were of a mechanical turn of mind, but from his mother he inherited all the Welsh love of music and fine literature. She was a gifted singer and took part in the annual Estedfedd, held in Utica, which has become nationally known as a literary and musical organization. As a little boy William W. Hughes attended the district school at Washington Mills, New York, and later, when the family moved to Pittsburgh, he studied in the public schools of that city.

Even as a boy Mr. Hughes was brought face to face with the stern facts of earning a living. He helped out with the family finances as best he could by selling newspapers for a time, and also had some experience as a printer's "devil". At the age of fourteen his formal education came to a close and any knowledge that he has acquired since has been self-taught. Shortly after he left school the family went to Utica, New York, where he secured a position with the Roberts-Wicks Company, clothing manufacturers, and there remained for eight years, working himself gradually up to the position of foreman of their two departments for the making of vests and pants. Meanwhile, he spent much of his leisure time reading and studying books from the library and books that he purchased out of his earnings, with the purpose of preparing himself for a more useful position in life than that of a foreman in a clothing factory.

From early manhood Mr. Hughes has been deeply interested in the church and young people's work, an interest that finally led him into the Young Men's Christian Association work, to which he has devoted twenty years of a remarkably active life. One of the first manifestations of his sincere concern with his fellow citizens' problems was the young man's activity in the garment workers' union. He was a delegate to the trades assembly for several years and represented this organization at the national convention held in Baltimore in 1901, being the youngest delegate in attendance. Had Mr. Hughes' health and inclination allowed him to continue in the clothing industry, he would undoubtedly have risen to a position of leadership and power in the labor movement that is so significant in present-day economic life. As it is, his experience with the working man has had a great deal to do with his success as a community worker, for it has given him a deep insight into and clear understanding of human nature, all important qualifications for a man in his position.

When his health compelled him to leave the clothing factory Mr. Hughes took up association work and was assistant secretary of the Utica Young Men's Christian Association for nearly four years before going to Rhinecliff, where he was in charge of the Memorial building for eight years. During his stay in Utica he was president of the Baptist Young People's Union of Oneida county, which had a membership of over a thousand at that time. His years in Rhinecliff were eventful ones for both Mr. Hughes and the village. He went there to take charge of the Morton Memorial building. This library was built in 1908 by the Hon. Levi P. Morton, in memory of a deceased daughter, and in 1912 endowed by him with a fund of eighty thousand dollars. It has a building costing about forty thousand dollars, equipped with game rooms, shower baths, lecture hall, study rooms, apparatus for night school, manual training and the study of domestic science, in addition to the usual book and reading rooms, and is operating under a charter specifically naming "civic uplift" as one of its main objects. The workers in charge not only are thoroughly trained in their special lines, but they embody the spirit of civic uplift noted in the charter. Among the things that have been accomplished in the village directly through the activities of this memorial library and its staff should be noted a village improvement committee that has been organized and has brought into being a system of electric lighting. An organization for fire protection and a model water system have brought in their wake a score of other improvements. Through its provision for recreation and health, its stimulus and help toward all kinds of self-improvement, its night school and its special classes, as well as its large supply of attractive reading, it has enriched the work of the schools, turned idlers into workers, and established a feeling of community fellowship and harmony. New life came into the churches, their debts decreased and their activities broadened. It is even recorded that one of the two saloons in the village went out of business and that the owner of the other resorted to the library for companionship — and this before the days of the Volstead act. In this work of transforming a community through the agency of the civic center Mr. Hughes was for the first eight years the guiding spirit. It was his vision, his willingness to perform thankless tasks, his courage in the face of opposition, that in a large measure made possible the realization of Mr. Morton's dreams when he founded the library. During his residence in Rhinecliff, Mr. Hughes was also active in the work of the Methodist church and held a number of local political and philanthropic offices, which he filled most acceptably. When the call came to Mr. Hughes to take up a larger work in another field, it was with deep regret that the people of Rhinecliff bade him farewell. While they were all sorry to have him go they took some comfort in the fact that he was leaving for a better position and that the work started in their village was being recognized and copied in many other places. One of the local papers summed up the community feeling in this matter in one of its editorials:

"To the many who knew Rhinecliff even a decade ago, the change in the village life and activities, as well as in outward appearance, is startling. All is for the better, and first and foremost in the march of progress has been the Morton Memorial building, with all the good work it represents and the ability of its leader, W. W. Hughes."

Mr. Hughes came to Little Falls as general secretary of the Young Men's Christian Association. Under his capable leadership this organization has gone forward to new goals in its development and service to the manhood of the community. It has not been the only movement in the city to feel the stimulus of Mr. Hughes' dynamic personality, for many another institution and sociey concerned with the betterment of the economic, social and moral life of the people has benefited from his advice and support. In fact, Mr. Hughes was instrumental in organizing the local Chamber of Commerce, of which he has been the secretary ever since its formation. Every one knows how much this organization has done toward the civic betterment and progress of Little Falls in the course of its rather short career. Mr. Hughes is also secretary of the Exchange Club, a civic and social club which has likewise been active in promoting the upbuilding of the community. During the World war Mr. Hughes had charge of all the financial drives in Herkimer county and in the last great drive for the "war chest" funds his county was the first in the state to reach its goal, with an allotment of one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars. He saw some active service in various camps besides making his own building in Little Falls a place of comfort and cheer for the hundreds of service men who stopped over in this city on their way to and from the army camps throughout the country.

Another local achievement to which the citizens point with pride is the Little Falls pageant, for which Mr. Hughes acted as the mainspring as well as the originator of the idea. It is generally conceded that the pageant was the best of its kind ever given in the Mohawk valley. As secretary of the committee Mr. Hughes looked after the matter of organization and then of execution, neglecting not the slightest detail that would add to the effect desired or make the machinery of the pageant run a bit smoother.

Mr. Hughes belongs to the First Methodist Episcopal church of this city and is a member of its official board. He has at times served as minister in the local church and has been often called upon to fill the pulpits of other churches in this section of the state. His appearances as a public speaker have by no means been limited to pulpit oratory, for his easy address and wide range of interests have made Mr. Hughes a well liked speaker on many occasions. As the result of his personal experience in community building he has, of course, a message of special interest on this subject and is best qualified to speak on this most important topic.

One cannot be forever giving out and never take to one's self the material and inspiration for further service. The sources to which men in the service of their fellow citizens turn for aid vary with the individual and his type of work. In addition to inspiration that comes to all those possessed of a genuine zeal to make the world a little better place for their having lived in it, Mr. Hughes seeks new ideas and mental stimulus in his reading. Good literature has always been a hobby with him and as the years have gone by he has built up a private library that is a continual pleasure to him. In the summer he takes frequent week-end outings with his family in their cottage at the Trenton Assembly Park at Barneveld, New York. Mr. Hughes' political affiliations are with the republican party, but he is more or less of an independent voter, governing his actions by his ideas of the fitness of the candidates for office and the value of the issues involved for the public as a whole.

Mr. Hughes was married on June 26, 1907, to Miss Pearl Anstey of Utica, who was born in that city May 7, 1881, the daughter of William and Alice (Walters) Anstey. Her parents were both natives of that city, where they lived all of their married life, and where the mother passed away. The father, who has now attained the age of seventy-three years, makes his home in Little Falls with his daughter and son-in-law. He was a foreman in the plant of Warnick Brown & Company of Utica for forty years prior to his retirement from active life. His father was the superintendent of the same firm for a long time a generation earlier. Three children have been born to Mr. and Mrs. Hughes, two of whom are living: Roger Gilbert was born in Rhinecliff, December 11, 1910; Ardis William was born in the same place, January 3, 1912; and Jean Catherine was born January 27, 1913, at Rhinecliff, and died in early infancy.

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